1. Great Britain, Politics, Military Expenditure.
- - - Napoleon's invasion of Britain. >
- - - Great Britain's military expenditure. >
- - - Britain and the coalitions against France. >
- - - Building the empire. >
2. The British Army.
Picture: British Foot Guards, by Dmitrii Zgonnik of Ukraine.
At the siege of Cuidad Rodrigo, in 1812 Gen. Picton
The French were surprised by the rigid class lines that divided
"The history of England is similar to the history of Britain before the arrival of the Saxons. It begins in the prehistoric
during which time Stonehenge was erected. At the height of the Roman Empire Britannia and Wales was under the rule of the
Romans. ... In 1066, the Normans (Normandy is a region in northern France) invaded and conquered England.
(Battle of Hastings -->)
For centuries there was a rivalry between England and Spain, and between England and France. The role of England in Iberia was coloured by the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, under which the independence of Portugal was guaranteed. Relations with Portugal always have been closer than those with Spain, and Spain and the United Kingdom have gone to war twice over Portugal's independence. At the start of the Napoleonic Wars, Spain found itself allied with France, and again found itself outgunned at sea, notably at Trafalgar. British attempts to capture parts of the Spanish colonial empire were less successful and included failures at Buenos Aires, Puerto Rico, and the Canary Islands.
When Napoleon invaded Iberia, the British and (most) Spanish ended up on the same side, united against French invasion. A united British-Spanish-Portuguese army, under the command of Wellington, eventually forced the French out of Spain, in what the Spanish came to call their War of Independence.
Great Britain was the dominant financial and maritime power of the 19th century.
Trade was Britain’s lifeblood and for this reason Napoleon used to say “They are a
nation of shopkeepers, their glory is in their wealth”.
Picture: cartoon of Prime Minister of Great Britain, William Pitt, and Royal Navy expecting the French invasion.
Although Britain had the largest navy in the world and was separated from the French by water the threat of French invasion was greeted in England with horror. Several times during the Revolution France had tried to invade Great Britain, once in Ireland and once in Wales. When the Irish foray coincided with local rebellion, it created great anxiety. Napoleon's capture of Belgium and the great port of Antwerp represented even more serious danger than the Irish invasion.
The goverment built an alternative capital at Weedon in Northamptonshire, complete with army barracks and a pavilon for the royal family. There were more than 410,000 recruits.
The English newspapers were full of articles and caricatures about "Buonaparte", to cheer up the people. It has been the greatest alarm ever known in the city of London and an intense invasion panic in the entire country. Major-General William Napier writes: "The uninterrupted success that, for so many years, attended the arms of Napoleon, gave him a moral influence doubling his actual force. Exciting at once terror, admiration, and hatred, he absorbed the whole attention of an astonished world, and, openly or secretly, all men acknowledged the power of his genius; the continent bowed before him, and in England an increasing number of absurd and virulent libels on his person and character indicated the growth of secret fear." (Napier - “History of the War in Peninsula 1807-1814” p 101)
Napoleon was demonised and British mothers would tell their children at night, 'If you don't say your prayers, Boney will come and get you.' There was considerable relief, then, when Admiral Nelson defeated the Spanish and French navy at Trafalgar. The threat of invasion however still existed and the British government ordered the Royal Navy to attack fleets of third countries (Dutch fleet in the Texel in 1805, and the Danish fleet in Copenhagen in 1807) against the possibility that the Emperor with his swiftness, might gain control of them.
The struggle between Great Britain and France was not David versus Goliath as some
English authors suggest.
Great Britain was a strong, very wealthy country.
In a period between the 1770s and 1820s, Britain experienced an accelerated process of economic change that
transformed a largely agrarian economy into the world's first industrial economy. This phenomenon is known as
the "industrial revolution", since the changes were all embracing and permanent.
The wool trade was one of the major industries and the country exported wool to Europe.
By the 17th century England was a leader in textile production.
British factories processed the colonial goods and sold them on in both the quickly growing domestic market
or abroad. London was, and still is, major financial district of Britain, and one of the world's leading financial centres.
Britain was a very populous country. In 1811 the total population of Great Britain was 18.5 million (incl. England, Ireland & Scotland). In comparison Prussia had 9,7 millions, and USA only 6 mln. Despite smaller populace Great Britain outspent France by a ratio of 3 : 1 in military expenditure. Great Britain was the biggest military spender in the world.
Denmark - 1 million
Saxony - 1,1 millions
Lombardy - 2 millions
Papal State - 2,3 millions
Sweden - 2,3 millions
Portugal - 3 millions
Poland Duché de Varsovie - 4,3 millions
Naples - 5 millions
USA - 6 millions
Holland & Belgium - 6,2 millions
Prussia - 9,7 millions (in 1806 reduced to 4,9 millions)
Spain - 11 millions
Great Britain - 18,5 millions (England, Ireland, Scotland)
Austria - 21 millions (with Hungary)
France - 30 millions
Russia - 40 (with annexed territories)
[Sources: European State Finance Data Base, "Report of the House of Commons - Inflation: 1750-1998"]
Britain (subsidies to allies + the Royal Navy + army, artillery, militia
in pounds sterlings (millions)
France total for army and navy in pounds (millions)
France total for army and navy in pounds (millions)
Britain and the coalitions against France.
Britain and France were political and economical rivals for centuries, often antagonistic with each other and had reached another "boiling point" around 1800-1805. The two countries had become locked in a self-perpetuating duel. "With her control of the seas, Britain could cripple French trade and support resistance anywhere on the European mainland ... It was one of the fundamental French beliefs that Britain's wealth came not from herself but from her colonies, which supplied commodities she could sell on to Europe at vast profit. Every conflict between Britain and France over the past century included a tariff war ..." (Zamoyski - "Moscow 1812" pp 14-15)
As there was widespread commercial jealousy of Britain, Napoleon's continental system and banning all British trade from the Continent was a popular policy. At least in the beginning. Napoleon dreamed about crushing the economical power of Britain. Before the invasion of Russia in 1812 he wrote: "Imagine Moscow taken - Russia crushed - the Tsar reconciled or dead in some palace conspiracy ... And tell me whether we a great army of Frenchmen and auxiliaries from Tiflis would have to do more than touch the Ganges River with a French sword for the whole scafolding of Britain's mercantile greatness to collapse." (Austin - "1812: The March on Moscow" p 31)
British prime minister Pitt announced on 31 January 1793 that Britain was involved in a 'war of extermination' with France. Already in the beginning of the conflict Britain supported the uprisings in Vendee (ext. link), led the rebellion in Toulon, etc. Britain had been sending aid to France's enemies in the form of money, subsidies, arms and uniforms. While only very small numbers of British troops ever took part in the main struggle against Napoleon. The Allies generals saw no British troops in the main theater of war facing the French Emperor. Wellington's corps in Spain was viewed by some Allies as of little importance.
Whenever Britain's allies were beaten by France, Britain would shelter all French emigrants who were opposed to Napoleon, helped plots to assassinate him (Artois and Cadoudal,) supplied the terrorists with arms, offered financial support.
Despite the fact that Great Britain was the paymaster of the coalition and gave a strong political support, almost all of the coalition members were suspicious of British motives in fanning the flames of conflict on the continent to distract France while refusing to commit own forces in large numbers. The flow of money was such that in July 1800 Mr. Nicholls said in speech in British Parliament "...even our allies had said that the English covered Germany with blood and gold." England could have never won against Napoleonic France without the Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies, and Spanish guerillas.
The coalitions however were not deeply rooted. Britain's Foreign Secretary had envoys at the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian headquarters. Their reports showed that Britain's allies had its own aims, which is not surprising at all. Castlereagh was taken aback to find that Russia, Austria and Prussia had little interest in Britain and her part in the conflict, save for her huge financial backing. (In 1813 Austria had offered Napoleon a negotiation peace about which Castlereagh had not been consulted.)
Third parties suffered as much as anyone from the economic warfare between France and Britain. After Britain adopted the policy of seizing goods carried by the ships of neutral nations if they were destined for a harbour under blockade Russia, Sweden and Denmark formed in 1800 a League of Armed Neutrality. They declared the Baltic ports out of bounds to British ships. The embargo was strengthened when the Danes seize Hamburg, the main harbour for British trade with the German states. Britain responded by sending a fleet into the Baltic. Nelson destroyed many of the ships in Copenhagen and damaged the shore defences. His victory prompted Denmark, Sweden and Russia to make peace.
History proves that although she declaimed so loudly against France's grasping spirit, she has since acquired more
territory than she ever charged him with conquering.
British forces invaded Cape Cod, plans were drafted to capture the Spanish province of
Chile and link up with Argentine and Sir Wellesey "was to be asked to invade Spanish held
Mexico". It seems like the continuous wars benefited Britain very well:
For Britain the most important colony was India. It was the "Jewel in the Crown." In 1661 King Charles II of Britain married the Portuguese princess Catherine and received Bombay, an island along India's west coast, as part of the dowry. Later, the King rented Bombay to the British East India Company. Soon after, the British East India Company already had several trading establishments in India, at Surat, Masulipattam and Fort St.George (Madras). King Charles also gave the Company the right to issue currency, erect forts, exercise jurisdiction over English subjects and declare war/peace with natives. The British civil servants who ran India were enthralled with their domain and detached from it. One viceroy, Lord Mayo, declared, "We are all British gentlemen engaged in the magnificent work of governing an inferior race." India stagnated for two centuries, at a time when British living standards more than quadrupled.
French colonial empire was the second largest in the world. (The story of France's colonial empire truly began in 1605 and its peak was between 1919 and 1939).
The British Army
The British army came into being with the merger of the Scottish Army and the English Army, following the unification of the two countries' parliaments and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Under Oliver Cromwell, the army had been active in the re-conquest, settlement and suppressing revolts in Ireland. The army and navy, in building the Empire, fought Netherlands, Spain, France, and United States for supremacy in North America, Africa and West Indies. It also battled many native tribes.
During the Napoleonic Wars Great Britain had a powerful navy but relatively small army. One of the barriers to recruitment was the army's fearsome reputation for loss of life. For example the failing campaigns in Caribbean in 1790s caused thousands of redcoats to perish through disease. Britain distrusted and disliked the armed forces, considering them to be the weapons in the hand of the King. Before Wellington the British army was not regarded as equal to some continental armies. In England the idea of British army fighting alongside the Russians in 1807 was ridiculed.
The structure of the British Army was complex, due to the different origins of its various constituent parts.
The king was the nominal commander of the British army.
The king was the nominal commander of the British army. The coming of George III to the throne brought the first British born king for 50 years. His predecessor, King George I, was a German who did not speak a word of English, but was Protestant. So he started the rule of the House of Hanover, under whom Britain achieved wealth.
George III, by the Grace of God the King of Britain, suffered from deteriorating mental health.
He is also known for the Brits as "The King Who
Lost America" and for the Americans as "The Man Who Fought Against Freedom and Democracy."
(In 1994 was filmed "The Madness of the King George". Some of the actors were nominated to
By the way, the next king was also George, but with the number IV. He kept going "on laudanum and prodigious quantities of cherry brandy." When war broke out with France there was no true commander of the British army.
The Duke of York was born in London in 1763. When he was six months old, his father secured his election as Prince-Bishop of Osnabruck in Lower Saxony. He received this title because the prince-electors of Hanover (which included his father) were entitled to select every other holder of this title, and the King apparently decided to ensure the title remained in the family for as long as possible. At only 196 days of age he is therefore listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest bishop in history. He was invested as Knight of the Most Honourable Order of Bath in 1767 and as a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1771. When he was sixteen the King sent him to Berlin to study the art of war under the famous Frederick the Great.
Duke of York was more administrator and reformer than commander in the field. For example he restored the discipline and morale in the British officer corps, manual exercises were revised, medical services were improved, he reduced the number of infantry regiments but made the battalions of uniform strength, formed depot companies etc. etc.
In 1809 due to indiscretions by his mistress who had been corruptly selling commissions, the Duke of York was forced to resign. He was replaced with Sir David Dundas, who was old and much less effective in office than the Duke. The Duke was reinstated in 1811. (Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 9)
The Duke of Wellington has rather a mixed reputation in his home country of Ireland, where he is generally seen as being British instead of being Irish. He was a member of The Ascendancy, the Anglo-Irish - and largely Protestant - aristocracy of Ireland which was generally hated by the Irish Catholic majority. Wellington came from a titled English Protestant family long settled in Ireland. His father was the Earl of Mornington. Until his early 20s, Arthur showed no signs of distinction. His mother placed him in the army, saying "What can I do with my Arthur?" He became a nobleman playboy, carousing and gambling.
In 1787 his mother and his brother Richard purchased for Arthur a commission in the 73rd Regiment. After receiving military training in Britain, he attended the Military Academy of Angers in France.. (Arthur also learned fluent French there.) He campaigned in India, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and France. Wellington rose to prominence eventually reaching the rank of field marshal. He raised the reputation of the British to a level unknown since Marlborough. Wellington won over French marshals at Talavera, Salamanca and Vittoria. Several times however he was forced to full retreat, and some of his sieges failed.
Wellington was the almost perfect response to the aggressive French strategy and tactics. The Duke, nicknamed Fabius Cunctator (the Delayer), took a very long term view and never lost sight of that. He evaded the enemy by manoeuvre, wearing them down, avoided battles until certain of a desisive victory. Wellington has often been portrayed as a defensive general, even though many of his battles were offensive (Oporto, Salamanca, Toulouse, Vitoria). The Iberian peninsula however "provides some of the best defensive ground in the world, and he was not slow to take advantage of it." (- wikipdia.org Jan 2008)
Under Wellington the British army was one of the most successful armies of the Napoleonic Wars. It was especially efficient when fed properly (to keep the discipline) and deployed on a strong defensive position.
Wellington was the most successful British general of the period. Majority of the other British commanders (with only 1 or 2 exceptions)
were failures in independent command. Even General Moore lost. He was driven into the sea by the French, then killed, and his troops fled to Britain.
Privates and Officers.
Left: Officer of the 9th Foot on Martinique in 1793. Source: Philip Haythorntwaite.
Right: officers of British infantry in 1815. Picture by Knotel.
The soldierly profession, badly paid and subject to the harshest discipline, was not greatly appreciated in England -
was, in fact, a decidedly proletarian vocation.
It was no accident that a high percentage of
those who enlidsted were Irish since Ireland, overpopulated as it was with a deeply
impoverished peasantry, had always been one of the major providers of cannon fodder to His
Majesty's army. Irishmen generally made up between 20 % and 40 % of the infantry that
Wellington marshaled at Waterloo.
According to Philip Haythorntwaite there is a record of Wellington coming upon
aristocratic officers making their men carry them over a river. Wellington ordered the soldiers to drop them on the spot.
The vast majority of soldiers came from the ranks of the otherwise unemployed, men who had not found another way to earn a living. Half of the troops had been farm laborers and the rest textile workers or apprentice tradesmen.
In England, the proletarian origins of the soldiers opened a chasm between them and their officers and generals. It is no surprising
that Wellington said that the army was recruited from among "the scum of the earth".
He laso made remark on the significant difference between the composition of a French army
(based on conscription) and that of a British one: "The conscription calls out a share of
every class - no matter whether your son or my son - all must march."
The soldiers of Moore's army were described as "They were all, however, volunteers … The average age of the soldiers was 23, and their average height 5'6". Most had been farm labourers, many from impoverished villages of Ireland and Scotland. They were paid 1 shilling per day, and led by an officer corps of aristocrats and gentlemen, many of whom had simply bought their commissions" (Summerville - "March of Death" p 26)
During campaign the emotions of British soldiers were divided between the hatred and contempt officially directed at the French and Buonaparte" by British newspapers and public opinion and the admiration they felt for the French emperor in their hearts, almost in spite of themselves. Captain Mercer of the Royal Artillery admitted that deep down he "had often longed to see Napoleon, that mighty man of war - that astonishing genius who had filled the world with his renown."
Strength and Deployment of the British army.
In 1790s the British army consisted of the following troops:
In January 1805 the British army consisted of 161,800 regulars:
The dilemma for military planners was how to use the forces for three different purposes: home defence against possible invasion from France, garrisoning and defence of the empire, and rapid deployment of an expeditionary force for any continental European war.
In January 1805 the British troops were deployed as follow:
According to Adjutant-General's returns, in the military force of Great Britain in 1808 was as follow:
Training and Quality of the British army.
Training of the British troops was on high level. The rank and file were mainly volunteers. In contrast the French were mainly recruits and hastily trained. "Unlike the British trooper who received a minimum of 6 months' training most French troopers received after 1805 a bare 2 to 3 weeks, being lucky if they were taught basic horsemanship and drill." (P.J.C. Elliot-Wright)
France was not separated by water from her enemies and was forced to have massive land armies and have it quick. War followed war with little time in between for training. In contrast the British could simply embark their troops and leave, and this is what they did so many times.
Britain was the wealthiest country in the world with
relatively small army. They could afford high ratio of practice rounds per soldier in
life fire training:
The British army was based on the well tried and tested regimental system.
The esprit de corps of the regimental system was maintained in the names and titles of
regiments handed down through history, with a tradition of courage and tenacity in battle.
Their discipline and bravery on the battlefield were well known.
The British army was an excellent army but far from the most successful in overall terms. The only British overall military success of the period was in Spain. Most other British operation were a failure: Flanders in 1793-94; Holland in 1799; Buenos Aires twice; Holland in 1809; the Dardenelles in 1807; Egypt in 1806; Spain and Sweden in 1808; Naples and Hanover in 1805; Spain and Italy in 1800.
The redcoats went against Washington and won at Bladensburg and North Point but suffered heavier losses to US forces made up largely of militia. The British at New Orleans had six excellent Peninsular regiments (4th, 7th, 43d, 44th, 85th, and 95th Rifles) and failed spectacularly against the Americans. The outcome of New Orleans is good evidence of a good army being led badly.
In 1793-1794 the British troops in Holland received "scathing criticism from foreign military observers and Allied commanders. There were damning comments on the appalling behaviour of officers, their lack of care for their men and their generally drunken demeanour. The Army as a whole showed up badly in the field. The drill manuals were out of date, the battalions were of poor quality ..." (Haythornthwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 6)
The war in Spain was also not a litghtining campaign. In 1809 the British corps under
general Moore fled before Napoleon to the sea. "The track was littered for mile after mile with discarded equipment and knapsacks,
and the forlorn dead and dying." (Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 36)
The French commanders had a good opinion about Wellington's troops. General Maximilien Foy (1775-1825) wrote: "Their skill and intrepidity in braving the dangers of the ocean have always been unrivalled. Their restless disposition, and fondness for travelling fit them for the wandering life of the soldier; and they possess that most valuable of all qualities in the field of battle - coolness in their strife. The glory of the British army is based principally upon its excellent discipline, and upon the cool and sturdy courage of the people. Indeed we know of no other troops as well disciplined.... In conclusion it may be said, that the English army surpasses other nations in discipline, and in some particulars of internal management ..."
But also in the same time the British army was one of the slower armies in Europe (except the Light Division
and cavalry). French General Thiebault writes that the scattered state of the French army in Spain
rendered its situation desperate, and that the slowness of Sir Arthur Wellesley saved it several times.
The French troops were known for their skills of extracting provisions locally - much to
the annoyance of local population.
Gates writes: "In contrast, the Allies, particularly the British, seem to have been peculiarly inept at surviving without plenty of supplies. Even in times of minor food shortages, indiscipline erupted on a vast scale. The British divisions went to pieces in the lean days after Talavera for example - and as late as the Waterloo campaign of 1815, we find Wellington commenting to his Prussian friends that 'I cannot separate from my tents and supplies. My troops must be well kept and well supplied in camp ..."
In the very end of the battle of Waterloo, Wellington and Blucher decided together that the Prussians alone would continue the pursuit. This decision is usually explained by citing the exhausted condition of Wellington's infantry, but Blucher's were surely no less tired. More likely the choice reflected the plodding management and slowness of movement that characterized British troops. [Professor A. Barbero]
John Mills of British Regiment of 'Coldstream Guard' wrote: "Their (French) movements compared
with ours are as mail coaches to dung carts. In all weathers and at all times the French are accustomed to
march, when our men would fall sick by hundreds ..." The Spaniards reproached the British for the tardiness of
According to French veterans the English soldiers obeyed blindly, if they commited a fault,
they were punished with the whip. England was still the country where a person could be
sentenced to death for any one of more than 60 different crimes, and where women were
hanged every day for the theft of a piece of fruit. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 23)
For the British soldier himself discipline was invariably harsh and enlistement was for long time. Some French deserters who joined the British Army in the Peninsula promptly deserted from it because they found discipline too severe. Some punishments included ‘riding the wooded horse’ a sharp-backed frame on which the offender sat astride, sometimes with weights attached to his feet to increase discomfort.
Generally offenders were flogged on the bare back for a variety of offences, and shot or hanged for more serious ones.
According to Wellington flogging was absolutely essential to control "the scum of the earth." He defended the harsh discipline, arguing that the army contained a proportion of blackguards who could not be kept in line in any other way, while reformers maintained that it dishonoured both the victim and the army in which he served. Discipline in the Russian army was also harsh.
During march the discipline in the British army was strict, the soldiers were only allowed to quit the ranks if they were ill or if they needed to relieve themselves. Before doing so they had to obtain a ticket or certificate from the sergeant on approval of their company commander. Officers and senior NCOs of light infantry carried whistles suspended on chains on the fronts of their shoulder belts.
Edward Costello gives some colorful descriptions of the punishment.
Costello also described the punishment of the popular Tom Plunket. "Although Tom was a general favorite, and his conduct had resulted from the madness of intoxication, his insubordination was
too glaring to stand a chance of being passed over. He was brought to a regimental court-martial, found guilty, and sentenced to be
reduced to the ranks, and to receive 300 lashes. Poor Plunket, when he had recovered his reason, after the commission of his crime, had experienced and expressed the most unfeigned contrition, so that when
sentence became known, there was a general sorrow felt for him throughout the regiment,
particularly on account of the corporal punishment...
After the Napoleonic Wars was published an article about the punishment in the British army.
"There is one institution in the British army which is perfectly sufficient
to characterize the class from which the British soldier is recruited. It is the
punishment of flogging. Corporal punishment does not exist in the French, the Prussian,
and several of the minor armies. Even in Austria, where the greater part of the recruits
consist of semi-barbarians, there is an evident desire to do away with it; thus the punishment
of running the gauntlet has recently been struck out from the Austrian military code.
The troops under Wellington were one of the best Britain ever had. Wellington's victories in Peninsula brought a measure of prestige to the British army, and increased reputation in the eyes of Europeans. The British troops however were not super-humans, they - for example - were not immune to deserterion, incl. even the most prestigious units.
In 1813 1,336 men were serving in this regiment and almost 10 % of them deserted.
This is estimated that 1/9 of those called into the Army of the Reserve and 1/5 of
those enlisted deserted. One return stated that during 1807-1809 the army suffered a
high figure of 17.237 deserters. Mind you, the British soldiers were mostly volunteers,
not conscripts, like the French.
Below: English deserters during the Napoleonic wars (source: Charles Dupin):
To the English deserters (given above) can be also added those who deserted from the foreign troops serving in the British army; Brunswickers, Hannoverians, Spaniards and others, increasing the total number. Sometimes the Spanish guerillas caught the deserters from British and German units and brought them back. "At the time I speak of we had a man in our regiment [95th Rfles] of the name of Stratton, who, after robbing several of his comrades of trifling articles, took it into his head to desert to the enemy, and was detected in the act, in a wood that leads from Rodrigo to Salamanca, by the vigilant Guerillas, and brought back prisoner to our cantonments. He was tried by a regimental court-martial, and sentenced to receive 400 lashes." (- Costello p 118)
Edward Costello of 95th Rifles described what sometimes happened
when the deserters were caught. "I now have to relate one of those melancholy incidents
peculiar to a soldier's life, that occurred
while we remained at El Bodon. On taking Rodrigo we had captured, among others, 10 men
who had deserted from our division. These were condemned to be shot. The place of execution
was on a plain near Ituera, where our division was drawn up, forming three sides of a square;
the culprits, as usual, being placed in front of a trench, dug for a grave, on the vacant side.
The French captured several colors of Wellington's infantry.
British Infantry of the Napoleonic Wars
Picture: the Lincolnshires in combat, by Keith Rocco.
The history of the British army spans over 350 years and numerous European and colonial wars. Great Britain was one of the greatest imperial powers in the world, and although this dominance was principally achieved through the strength of the Royal Navy, the army played a significant role. The best part of the British Army was the infantry.
The age of British infantrymen of the Napoleonic Wars was between 15 and 45:
The height of British infantrymen was as follow:
In the ranks of British infantry served many Scots and Irishmen. Virtually every single regiment was a mixture of Englishmen, Irishmen and Scots. Some regiments considered as Scottish had also Irishmen and English in their ranks. The same with the so-called Irish and English regiments. See diagram below:
Picture: British infantry storming Badajoz, by Mark Churms.
French Genaral Foy writes:
"The infantry is the best portion of the British army. ...
The infantry, when in active service, is distributed into brigades of 2, 3 and even 4 regiments, according to
the number and strength of the battalions. The grenadiers are not distinguished among the other soldiers for the eclat
and pre-eminence so striking in the French and Hungarian grenadiers; and it is not customary to unite them into separate
corps, in order to attempt bold strokes.
The British recruits were instructed to march 75 steps per min. Each step of 30 inches. But 108 steps /min. were used during filing of companies into column, or from column into line. This pace was also used by battalions manoeuvering as columns. It was not used by large bodies of men in movement on account of fatigue. (- Philip Haythorntwaite)
The British military was broken into 2 schools of thought, the 'American' and the 'German'.
Picture: British infantry muskets.
Source: Brent Nosworthy - "With Musket,
Cannon, and Sword."
Although officially during the Napoleonic Wars the British were formed on 3 ranks, Wellinton's troops in the mountainous Spain used the 2-rank deep formation with great success. General Order issued in August 1808 directs the British troops in Spain to use two ranks. Few years earlier the Duke of York allowed for infantry regiments to pass inspection using two ranks regardless of strength.
In 1815 at Quatre Bras several British battalions were badly chopped by French lancers, cuirassiers and chasseurs. At Waterloo they used far more cautious formation, the 4-rank deep. This heavy line was deeper than the French line. The fear of French cavalry was such that as Ensign Macready wrote "no power on Earth could have formed a line of any kind of us but that of a line 4 deep."
Another reason for 4-ranks was a limited space.In all probability Alten's and Picton's divisions at Waterloo were also
formed on 4-ranks.
Organization of Infantry.
In March 1806 the strength of the infantry was approx. 160,000 men , including the "prestigious King's German Legion." (Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 11) In this number were included field units, depots, and garrisons. By 1815 there were 104 infantry regiments, numbered strictly in accordance with seniority - the date of formation. Infantry regiment was not a tactical unit, it was an administrative formation that never took the field.
The strength of infantry regiment varied. At the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens (1803) virtually all regiments had only 1 battalion.
But very soon it changed. For example in 1809 :
Wellington's infantry in Autumn 1813 in Spain:
Staff of Battalion:
1 Ltn-Col., 2 Mjr., 1 Adjutant
Paymaster (staff sergeant)
Noncombatants: surgeons, band of music
Pioneers (1 corporal and 10 privates)
The pioneers often wore squat bearskins with brass plate.
L e f t - W i n g . . . . . . . . . . . . . . R i g h t - W i n g
(To form a square frorm this column was very easy.
The Grenadier and Light Company closed up on the 1st and 8th.
The 2nd-7th Companies, divided at the join of their two sub-divisions and wheeled
up by sections, left and right, to form the flanks 4-men deep.
The front and rear of the square was 20 m wide, the sides 65 m long.)
The English historians emphasize how Wellington's battalions were
understrength at Waterloo. This is correct but this is not the whole picture.
Although understrength, the British battalion was much stronger formation
than the Prussian or French battalion.
Each of the eight center companies was divided into 2 half-companies.
The British field battalion had ten companies: one light, one grenadier and eight centre. The Light and Grenadier Company drummers formed behind their own company, but their battalion company comrades were grouped behind the 2nd and 7th Companies. The battalion Colors were placed between the 4th and 5th Company.
The British batalion column was always formed with a frontage of one company. With a column at open distance the gaps between the rear rank of the leading company and the rear rank of the next one was the same as the company frontage; say 20-25 m.
A column at half distance had gaps of 10-12.5 m, at quarter distance 5 m and in the close column the men were virtually treading on each other's heels. Majority of British eyewitness accounts from Waterloo confirm that the infantry massed on the high ground beyond Hougoumont came under French artillery fire from the very first moment and suffered a steady attrition that gradually began to wear on the men's nerves.
The column of companies, the formation in which most of Wellington's battalions were deployed, waiting to enter into contact with the enemy, was a deep formation, with all 10 companies lined up one behind the other, like rungs on a ladder. It was the best formation for waiting troops, but it certainly wasn't suitable for withstanding artillery fire. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 92)
The Grenadiers were normally distinguished in the following way: red 'wings' with white fringes,
white shako-plumes, officers wore chain or laced 'wings.'
The Light and Grenadier Companies were supposedly elite units.
"The Light Copany was frequently detached to form a skirmish line
some 200 m in front of the battalion... If not sent out skirmishing, the Light Company would be at the rear
(of the battalion column) with the Grenadiers in the lead."
(Adkin - "The Watreloo Companion" pp 169-171)
It was rare for the British to detach the grenadiers and form entire battalions of grenadiers. We know about one such case, in 1793 the grenadier companies were detached from their parent battalions and were formed in 3 grenadier battalions.
Uniforms of the Infantry.
Red coat is a term often used to refer to British infantryman, because of the colour of the uniforms formerly worn by the majority of regiments. In 1645, the Parliament passed the New Model Army ordinance. The infantry regiments wore coats of Venetian red with white facings. ("There is no basis for the historical myth that red coats were favoured because they did not show blood stains. Blood does in fact show on red clothing as a black stain." - wikipedia.org)
In the USA, 'Redcoat' is particularly associated with those British soldiers who fought against the colonists during the American Revolution. It does not appear to have been a contemporary expression - accounts of the time usually refer to "regulars" or "the King's men". Abusive nicknames included 'bloody backs' (in a reference to both the colour of their coats and the use of flogging as a means of punishment for military offences) and "lobsters" or "lobsterbacks" (most notably in Boston around the time of the Boston Massacre. (wikipedia.org)
Red and white made an easy target. "... the English are the only nation who have maintained in their army the red coat,
the "proud red coat" as Napier calls it. This coat, which makes their soldiers look like
dressed-up monkeys, is supposed by its brilliancy to strike terror into the enemy ...
The Danes and Hanoverians used to wear the red coat, but they dropped it very soon.
The first campaign in Schleswig proved to the Danes what a capital mark to the enemy
is offered by a red coat and white cross-belts ..."
("The Armies of Europe" in Putnam's Monthly, No. XXXII, published in 1855)
During the Napoleonic Wars with the exception of only three units (60th and 95th and the King's German Legion) the British infantry wore red jacket. The cloth was dull red for rank and file and bright scarlet for senior NCOs and officers. The companies of grenadiers and light infantry wore wings of red cloth at the shoulders. Officers jackets were double-breasted, well tailored and often padded to exaggerate the outline.
For parade during peacetime the infantrymen wore white breeches and black gaiters. During campaign they wore white (in summer) or grey-blue (in winter) comfortable trousers. At Waterloo however all wore grey trousers.
With the exception of the 71st-75th regiments, all Highland units wore kilts. But at Waterloo only three regiments wore them; the 42nd, 79th and 92nd. (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" in note on the cover painting)
In 1802 the chevrons replaced epaulettes and shoulder knots as rank distinctions for
sergeants and corporals:
The queues had been abolished in 1808 and the soldiers hair were cut close to the head.
The British "Waterloo" shako was authorised for use in December 1811. It was made of black felt, 8.5 inches high in the front and stepped down to 6 inches at the back. A red and white plume was worn on the left side, emerging from behind a black cloth rosette. The caplines (cords) were of white worsted plaited cords, with tassels hanging down on the right side. The peak was of black leather. The design on the plate was the Royal cipher GR with the regimental number underneath. Often the British felt shako was protected with oilskin foul weather cover. (Wilkinson-Latham - "Infantry Uniforms" publ. 1969-70, p 148)
The shako cords were (in 1815) as follow:
The privates of the legendary 42nd Black Watch wore the hummel bonnet. It was of blue cloth with black ostrich feathers on the left side, which were drooped over on to the right side, giving the appearance of an all-feather bonnet. The headband consisted of 3 bands of red, white and green diced cloth. On the left side was a black cockade with a regimental-pattern button into which was attached the white-over-red plume. The chinstraps were of black leather.
British inter uniforms, 1814. Picture by Knotel, Germany.
In foreground: officer of infantry and private of 1st Foot Guards
In background, mounted: light dragoon and heavy dragoon
The Foot Guard.
Left: British Foot Guards in 1815, by Knotel.
From left to right:
Right: British 1st Foot Guards (campaign dress). Picture by de Beaufort.
Many nations have regiments of guards in their armies, as the term 'guards' is an honorific to mark out the best soldiers. Most monarchies have at least one regiment of guards, part of whose duties is to guard the royal family. During the Napoleonic Wars the British Foot Guard consisted of three regiments, 1st, 2nd and 3rd, each of 1-3 battalions. The Foot Guard was elite unit that recruited the biggest and best volunteers. They had high reputation for discipline. The guardsmen were uniformed like the line infantry but with regimental distinctions.
In 1815 there were 7 battalions of Foot Guard, 4 of them were at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. Maitland's brigade suffered very heavy losses in this campaign (over 60 % !).
- the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards is the most senior regiment of the Guards, and, as such, is the most senior regiment of infantry. It is not, however, the most senior regiment of the Army, this position being attributed to the Life Guards. (The Coldstream Guards were organized before the Grenadier Guards, but their regiment is reckoned after the Grenadiers in seniority.) As a result of their heroic actions in fighting off the French grenadiers [or rather chasseurs] at Waterloo, the 1st Guards were renamed as the Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards, thus becoming the only regiment in the British Army to be named for its actions in battle.
- the 2nd Regiment of Foot Guards, the Coldstream Guards, is the oldest regiment in the British Army in continuous active service, originating on the Scottish border in 1650. It is one of two regiments of the Guards that can trace its lineage to the Cromwell's New Model Army. The Coldstream Regiment saw service in the Napoleonic Wars (Egypt, Cpenhagen in 1807, Portugal, walcheren Expedition, Waterloo). It later was part of the allied occupation forces of Paris until 1816.
- the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards, the Scots Guards, can trace their origins back to an army that was raised by Archibald 1st Marquess of Argyll, in 1642. After the union of the two kingdoms, it became the third-ranking regiment of foot guards.
The British and Russian Guards were one of the best troops Allies had. General Sir Charles Stewart, writes: "It is impossible by any description to give an exaggerated idea of the perfect state of these troops; [Russian Guards] their appearance and equipment were admirable." An eyewitness wrote in 1814: "The Prussians are excellent troops, but after seeing the Russian foot guard I cannot look at them."
The Light Infantry.
The British well-drilled regulars were humiliated by American farmers, militia and Indians
fighting in lose order. The american experience made a profound impact and resulted in
tactical and organizational changes in the British army.
But still the quality of the British skirmishers (except the 60th and 95th Regiment) was
below their French counterparts.
The only exception were three superb units: 60th, 95th and KGL light btns., all armed
with rifles. The Light Division was arguably one of the best light troops in Europe.
In September 1813 the French commander in Spain, Marshal Soult, wrote to the Minister of War
that British sharpshooters were killing the French officers in a fast rate: "the losses of officers are
so out of proportion with the losses in soldiers".
Moyle Sherer of the 34th Foot wrote on the British skirmishers: "Not a soul….was in the village, but a wood a few hundred yards to its left, and the ravines above it, were filled with French light infantry. I, with my company, was soon engaged in smart skirmishing among the ravines, and lost about eleven men, killed and wounded, out of thirty-eight. The English do not skirmish so well as the Germans or the French; and it is really hard work to make them preserve their proper extended order, cover themselves, and not throw away their fire; and in the performance of this duty, an officer is, I think, far more exposed that in line fighting." (Rory Muir- "Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon")
The 43rd and 52nd, received specialist training under Sir John Moore and formed the renowned Light Division in Wellington's Army in Spain and Portugal. There was also the 71st Highland Light Regiment and two rifle outfits, the 60th and 95th. These units (and some foreign) were Britain's light infantry. They were more often in combat than other units. Edward Costello of 95th Rifles writes: "... we were greatly harassed, our picquets and the French were constantly in the habit of firing at each other, and scarce a day passed without some of the men being brought in, either killed or wounded. (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 28)
The light infantry - if necessary - was transported on horses (the Russians did it in 1812 and 1813 with their jagers). Costello writes "... my company had been hurried forward by the cavalry, each dragoon mounting a rifleman behind him on horse - a method of riding peculiarly galling to the infantry, but which we frequently had to experience during the war. (- Costello p 50)
In the end of 1797 the parliament authorised the formation of a 5th battalion of the
60th Foot to be recruited from German exiles familiar with the use of rifles.
These Germans were armed with rifles designed primarily for hunting, were slow loading
and required cleaning every few shots.
The rifles were more accurate weapons than the muskets. According to E. G. Prühs (Pruhs - "Die Schlacht bei Waterloo" publ. 1983) in 1815 at Waterloo the Hannovarian jägers of Graf von Kielmannsegge's brigade fought against French skirmishers. The French suffered 40 killed and wounded, while the jägers had only 20 casualties. The English Baker rifle was probably the most accurate of all firearms during the Napoleonic Wars. On the training ground and under perfect conditions 100 % hits were recorded at 100 paces. However some of the claims about superiority and universality of rifles make little sense. If they were so superior then why the musket, not the rifle, remained the weapon of British infantry for decades after Napoleonic wars ?
The weaknesses of rifles were:
The rifles were far more suited for skirmishers than line troops, as accuracy not speed of
fire was the nature of skirmish duty, and the riflemen were deadly proficient at their task.
At Waterloo approx. 4.000 men were armed with Baker rifles:
The riflemen also used a long bayonet ("sword bayonet") designed to make the rifle and sword-bayonet the same length as the musket and bayonet. But the sword-bayonet was not an effective weapon in hand-to-hand combat.
The 95th Rifles.
Left: baby-faced captain of 95th Rifles.
Right: British riflemen in 1813, picture by Knotel.
From left to right:
The 95th 'Rifles' earned the nickname "The Grasshoppers" for their dark green uniforms and agility. "As part of the famous Light Division they had been Wellington's eyes and ears, scouting and screening ahead of every advance and covering every retreat. ... they usually fought dispersed, they carried no Colors, and reacted to whistle blasts or bugle calls rather than the beating of drums." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" pp 178-179)
The 95th Regiment of Foot was formed due to the demonstrated marksmanship of American
militia during the American War of Independence. After a period of intensive training
of soldiers drawn from many different infantry regiments the new riflemen first action
was in August 1800. It was a failed amphibious assault on Ferrol in Spain.
The Rifles suffered badly during Moore's dramatic retreat to Corunna. Edward Costello writes: "The Rifle regiment, it is well known, had distinguished itself, and had suffered severely, especially in the retreat to Corunna under the gallant Moore. From thence, they had embarked for England, where, on their landing they presented a most deplorable sight. The appearance of the men was squalid and miserable in the extreme." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 5)
In Peninsula the 95th Rifles participated in numerous skirmishes and combats. They distinguished themselves in several battles, incl. Salamanca.
In the battle of Quatre Bras in 1815, the 95th Rifles were unable to retake the village defended by Bachelu's infantrymen. Prince of Orange sent several companies of Dutch 27th Jagers to assist the British, but language proved a barrier to useful co-operation. Sir Andrew tried to encourage the Dutch to march forward in line with his men, but the Dutch tried to explain that the French are in too great numbers to attack frontally. The French were in tall crop and unseen to Sir Andrew's men. Sir Andrew insisted and his riflemen went forward unaccompanied, only to be repulsed at once by a massive volley.
The Scots: Lowlanders and Highlanders.
Picture: British infantry by Knotel of Germany.
The relations between the English and the Scots were often unfriendly. There were wars and battles, and Oliver Cromwell even sold Scots into slavery. They were transported to America, sold and were used to build up the wealth of English colonists. The investors in London complained that "the Scots were having too much spent on their food - about 5s a week. The Londoners thought 3s should be enough." There were also so-called 'Highland Clearances'' where tens of thousands of Scots were evicted, often very violently, from their lands to make way for large scale sheep farming for the English. Bayonet, truncheon and fire were used to drive them from their homes.
In the 1700's there were two distinct societies in Scotland. In the lowlands, the people were a mixture of all the races that had invaded England and the Isles. Lowlanders spoke a version of English and lived in a society based on the emerging mercantile economy. The Highlanders on the other hand, were largely Celtic in ancestry with a sprinkling of Viking and a few other races. The Highlanders spoke Gaelic, and lived in a largely feudal society based on loyalty and power, not money. Source: www.tartans.com
The Lowlanders wore uniform of English line infantry, while the Highlanders wore kilts (ext. link) The only exceptions were: 71st, 72nd, 73rd, 74th and 75th, they were no kilts.
The 42nd is the oldest and the most famous of units of Scotland. The regimental motto is 'No one attacks me with impunity'. The first companies of the Black Watch were raised as a militia in 1725 . The regiment's name, Black watch, comes from the very dark tartan (a cloth having a crisscross design, tartan that they wear). 'Black Watch' was originally just a nickname for the 42nd (Royal Highland) but was used more and more so that in 1881 when the 42nd amalgamated with the 73rd the new regiment was named 'The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). In World War One the kilted Highlanders were known as 'The Ladies from Hell'. ;-)
Scottish regiments in 1808:
In April 1809, an order was issued, stating that as the population of the Highlands
of Scotland was found to be insufficient to supply soldiers for the whole of the Highland
Corps, and as some of these corps , by laying aside their distinguishing
dress, which was objectionable to the natives of South Britain, would induce the men of
the English Militia to enter, the 72nd, 73rd, 74th, 75th and 94th Foot were ordered to
discontinue wearing the Highland dress for the future.
"The limbs of the Highlander are strong and sinewy, the frame hardy, and of great physical power, in proportion to size. He endures cold, hunger, and fatigue with patience..." (Source: www.electricscotland.com/history)
Picture: the Highlanders, by Dmitrii Zgonnik of Ukraine.
The highlanders were one of the toughest foot soldiers in Europe. Even the aloof English officers least inclined to appreciate the northern barbarians had to admit that they made extraordinary defensive soldiers. "Tomkinson of the 16th Light Dragoons, for example, believed that Scottish troops were the best in the army in situations calling for coolness, steadiness and obedience to orders; he thought them less valuable in skirmishes, or more generally, in any kind of combat where quickness of reaction was called for." A Royal Scots officer wrote after Waterloo that the French skirmishers were better armed and trained, and on the whole much more effective in this type of fighting. (Barbero - "The Battle" pp 133, 255)
Costello of 95th Rifles writes: "The 79th Highlanders had suffered very severely here, as the place was strewn about with their bodies. Poor fellows ! they had not been used to skirmishing, and instead of occupying the houses in the neighborhood, and firing from the windows, they had, as I heard, exposed themselves, by firing in sections." [fight near the banks of the River Dos Casas]
According to www.irelandseye.com "From before the arrival of Saint Patrick to the present day Ireland has had a history that could never be called quiet." The Crown of England did not gain full control over Ireland until the 16th and 17th centuries, when the whole island had been subjected to numerous military campaigns in the period 1534–1691, and was colonised by English and Scottish Protestant settlers. In 1798 the English repression of the Irish rebellion resulted in "30,000 victims in 3 1/2 month - a similar number to the Terror in France, but over a shorter period and from a population barely 1/6 the size." [Source: William Doyle - "Oxford History of the French Revolution." p.343]
The British Army had always used Irishmen, in fact it is has been said "the British Empire was won by the Irish, administered by the Scots and Welsh and the profits went to the English". In recent years the last line was amended to read "lost by the English." Most of the Irish Regiments were raised in the mid-1680's. It was estimated that by 1860 some two thirds of the British Army including the English country regiments was constituted by Irishmen or their descendants. (Source: www.doyle.com.au/)
During the Napoleonic Wars there were several Irish regiments:
The most Irish of all was the 88th Regiment of Foot. The 88th was established in 1793. Wellington himself later described them as "that most astonishing infantry". According to Sir Oman the 88th was "the most Irish of all Irish regiments". The 88th enjoyed a reputation for plundering and hard fighting.. General Picton gave them the infamous nickname of "The Devil's Own".
At Bussaco 1810 the 88th "saved the situation" by acting with great promptitude. Wellington himself witnessed the action and shouted : "I never witnessed a more gallant charge than that just now made by this regiment." At the siege of Cuidad Rodrigo, 19th January 1812 General Picton gave this particular address to the 88th: "It is not my intention to expend any powder this evening. We'll do this business with the cold iron." In 1814 the 88th proceeded to Canada and in 1815 arrived too late to take part at Waterloo.
Sources and Links.
Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)"
Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion"
Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns"
Muir - "Salamanca, 1812"
Fortescue - "A History of the British Army"
Hofschroer - "Waterloo - the German Victory"
Hofschroer - "Wellington and His German Allies"
Chartrand - "British Army in North America 1793-1815"
Judd - "Someone Has Blundered: Calamities of the British Army"
Summerville - "March of Death"
Nosworthy - "With Musket, Cannon, and Sword."
William Pitt the Younger.
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh.
Letters on British Politics Captured by the French in January 1804.
British Poetry and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Spanish Recruits in the British Army 1812 - 1813.
Imperial Nostalgia - by Vinay Lal.
The Colonial Legacy - Myths and Popular Beliefs.
The Epic History and Heritage of the Irish.
Ireland - History Forum.
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington
General Sir Thomas Picton
History of the Royal Arsenal
The British Army Museums
Napoleon, His Army and Enemies